The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration defines distracted driving as “any activity that diverts attention from driving.” Driver distractions include but are not limited to any of the following:
- talking on the phone or to passengers in the car
- taking photos with a cell phone
- adjusting the stereo or other entertainment components
- configuring the navigation system
When you get behind the wheel of a car, you need to pay attention to the road using auditory, visual, and cognitive skills. There is also the manual component involved with operating a vehicle that requires just as much of your attention. Because safe driving requires complete focus, many states have declared bans on hand-held phones and other restrictions on cell phone usage for drivers to reduce road incidents.
Using a cell phone—in particular, texting while driving—is often compared to drunk driving. Texting on the road is even more dangerous than driving under the influence. People who text behind the wheel are six times more likely to be involved in a collision than someone impaired by alcohol or drugs.
Due to the high risks involved with using a cell phone in the car, some states have enacted strict laws about talking and texting while driving, though the specific rules vary.
State Laws Against Driving While Using Cell Phones
All states have enacted some laws against distracted driving. However, different regulations enforce state bans on cell phones for drivers.
Usage of hand-held phones. There are 21 states, along with the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, that prevent all motorists from using hand-held phones while driving. Colorado is among those states.
The ban on hand-held cell phones is a primary enforcement law. As a primary enforcement law, the ban states that a police officer may pull over drivers for holding cell phones and issue citations for it, even if the driver has not committed any other traffic violation.
Cell phones in hands-free mode. No state stops all drivers completely from using their cell phones. Drivers can still access their cell phones to talk and text using the hands-free mode. However, there are stricter rules when it comes to new drivers. In 39 states, plus the District of Columbia, it is illegal for novice drivers to use their cell phones at all, hands-free or otherwise—including Colorado.
There are stricter laws for newer drivers, and for two reasons. The first is that new drivers are still adjusting to operating a car and learning the rules of the road. Without the distraction of a cell phone, they are better able to pay attention to their surroundings and learning to operate their vehicle.
The second reason is that younger drivers are more likely to text than talk. While talking is still a form of distraction, texting while driving is even more so—and there are laws to prevent it. Texting makes it impossible to keep your eyes on the road, and while that impairs even seasoned drivers, new drivers are even more prone to road incidents due to cell phone use.
School bus drivers and cell phones. The topic of school bus drivers and cell phones is a particularly sensitive one, as they are responsible for safely transporting large groups of young people. Twenty states, plus the District of Columbia, have laws regarding school bus drivers and cell phone usage while on the job.
The law prohibits school bus drivers from using their cell phones when driving children to and from their destinations. This law is primarily enforced in several states, including Colorado.
Text messaging. Washington enacted a texting ban for drivers in 2007. Today, there are 48 states plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands that place a texting ban on all drivers, Colorado among them.
Except for Connecticut and New Hampshire, each state has at least one category designated for distracted driving on police crash report forms.
Positive Results from Cracking Down on Talking and Texting
A study reports that cell phone laws are successful in helping to keep roads safer. After the states enacted their texting bans, there were more than 1,600 fewer reported emergency visits from traffic accident victims per year on average.
The National Safety Council (NSC) analyzes data about distracted driving as collected by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). In 2018, 2,841 people died in accidents caused by distracted driving. This number marks a 12% decrease from 2017 when there were 3,242 deaths. 2018 is also the third year in which distracted driving accidents have declined.
While those numbers can still be significantly improved, cell phone laws have proven effective in reducing the number of accidents caused by distracted driving.
The federal government has done its part to encourage states to pass laws that help prevent distracted driving. The federal government awards financial bonuses and incentives to those states that do enact laws regulating or banning cell phone usage by drivers.
On the other hand, those states that do not pass regulations risk losing funding for their highways. With these financial sanctions, the federal government sends a clear message to all states: Keep your roads and the people on them safe.
While not all states enact laws, the states that do have regulations are safer for drivers. The NHTSA’s 2016 crash statistics support this argument, reporting that nine states, including the District of Columbia, consistently enforced their cell phone bans for drivers. Those successful states are Delaware, New York, New Jersey, Hawaii, Connecticut, California, Illinois, Nevada, and West Virginia.
In the same 2016 report, Mississippi, Alabama, and South Carolina were noted as the top three states for the number of road fatalities. None of these states had laws against using hand-held phones while driving at the time.
Based on the information from the NSC and the NHTSA, the crackdown on distracted driving has been effective in keeping roads safer across the country.
Do you need a car accident attorney? Call the experienced legal team at Bell & Pollock P.C. at (720) 613-6736.